China Focus: China's online English-learning service builds cultural bridge

Source: Xinhua| 2018-05-19 13:33:27|Editor: ZD
Video PlayerClose

BEIJING, May 19 (Xinhua) -- Mikell Brown lives in Utah and works two jobs, both from home.

As a mother of two girls, aged three and five, she spends much of the day taking care of her children. But in the early mornings, she teaches English to children in China on her laptop .

Mikell has worked for an online English-learning app called VIPKID for almost one year. The app, mainly for children under 12, has hired over 40,000 native speakers in North America, mostly in the United States, to teach English on the app.

"That was my first thought: What? I can work from home? What? I can make this money?" she said. "I really thought it was too good to be true."

The online English learning service has been welcomed by more Chinese parents over the past two or three years and is building a bridge over cultural differences by meeting demand from both China and overseas.


By doing an online class based on selected textbooks, a child can communicate with a native speaker teacher face-to-face. One class, usually less than an hour, generally costs more than 100 yuan (15.7 U.S. dollars).

With a number of online English learning companies for children emerging, the number of customers is expected to reach nearly 8 million and the market value may exceed 5 billion yuan in 2019, according to an analysis report released by China's consulting company iResearch in 2017.

In August last year, VIPKID finished its series D financing and received investment totaling 200 million dollars.

"More parents now want their children to grow up with a global vision," said Xu Zhe, CEO special assistant of VIPKID, which now has more than 300,000 customers.

"Parents are spending more on children's education, and more people have accepted online products," said Yao Shuwen, vice president of public relations of DaDa, another leading online English-learning service provider in China.


While meeting demand for more accessible and convenient English-learning, companies like VIPKID and DaDa also benefit people living in the United States, Canada and other countries by providing remote jobs.

Working for the online learning service, teachers can publish schedules online based on their own time arrangements and teach classes from wherever there is Internet access.

VIPKID was listed as the first of 100 top companies with remote jobs in 2017, surpassing big companies like Amazon and Dell, by flexible job searching website FlexJobs in January this year.

Though the company had only over 100 teachers when it first started four years ago, now it receives 40,000 to 50,000 job applications every month from overseas. All applicants need to meet several requirements, including a bachelor's degree and teaching experience.

"Most of our teachers are doing a part-time job," Xu said.

Many of the staff have difficulty trying to juggle a full-time job because of various commitments.

Mikell gives about 25 lessons of 25 minutes-long a week and earns around 800 U.S. dollars a month. Her husband Nick, who also works as a teacher for the app, teaches 55 classes a week and is paid about 2,000 U.S. dollars per month.

"It gives me the best of both worlds. I'm able to stay at home with my children, which is extremely important to me, and it also provides me a sense of knowing that I'm being useful outside of the home," said Mikell, who used to work as a full-time teacher but is now busy with the care of her young children.

"Apart from teaching classes, teachers can also participate in interviewing or training other teaching staff, and even help designing the classes," said Yao, who works for DaDa.

"The one-to-one classes also build a close relationship between teachers and children," Yao said. "Some teachers even come to tears when their students stop taking classes."


For many of the teachers, a relationship is built not only personally but also culturally, as they get a chance to learn more about China when teaching Chinese children English.

VIPKID started its online Chinese learning service last year, and has more than 10,000 students now, many of who are children of the company's English teaching staff.

"Some of our teachers even take trips together to China, visiting cities such as Shanghai, Beijing and Xi'an," said Li Bo, public relations director of VIPKID.

Mikell, who previously gained most of her knowledge about China from movies, has also leant things about Chinese festivals, as well as greetings and simple words in Chinese from her students.

"Culturally it has just opened my eyes to the beautiful, wonderful country," said Mikell, who has taught over 800 children, together with her husband. "Even my children, anytime they hear about China, they say: 'Oh, my mom works in China.' And they love it."

As communication has widened, emerging business should further grow and benefit people from both sides.

"While more people have embraced the online English-learning service, only a few people are actually paying for the service now, meaning that the market has great potential," Yao said.

"Online English-learning services are helping Chinese people go global, and people overseas to better realize their values via more job opportunities," Xu said.